With the popularity of rhythm games at an all time high, it’s no surprise that everyone is trying to cash in. However no one had yet set the lucrative “Tween” demographic in their “Band Game” marketing cross hairs. Enter Disney (who else) with Ultimate Band for the Wii. The ultimate family friendly console gets a family friendly band game to call its own, and while the game will turn off the hardcore Rock Band/Guitar Hero audience, it’s competent enough to draw in the audience it’s looking for.
Ultimate Band follows a band of your creation on a quest to be top dogs at the Rock Dome. The story is done in the typical Disney style (no drugs or groupies for this rock band), and should be a treat for younger gamers weaned on shows like Hannah Montana. You’ll pick hairstyles, clothes, and other accessories for your band mates, and outfit your band with an official logo. The character models match the overall style of the game very well, and the game features a pretty good selection of customization options.
Unlike other “Band” games, there are no plastic instruments to be found in Ultimate Band. Instead you’ll control your digital counterparts using only the Wii remote and the Nunchuck. The different instruments require different gestures along with the music. The band itself is standard format, a frontman, a drummer, a guitar player, and a bassist. The various instruments vary quite a bit both in terms of method of control, and quality of implementation. For example, playing the guitar may require you to strum downward with the Wii remote in time with an on screen cue. There are also other gestures involved, like clapping your hands, shaking the remote like bending a whammy bar, or the always popular windmill.
Drums control as you would expect, with the expectation to strike downward with either your left or right hand as the notes scroll down the screen. Both the drums and guitar control pretty well, and are a decently close approximation to playing the real thing.
The Bass guitar is where things start to get a little sloppy on the control front. Bass has a similar implementation to guitar, but with an annoyingly inaccurate “tilt to change frets” control scheme. Last but not least, we come to the frontman. Most games require the lead singer in the band to actually, you know, sing. In Ultimate Band, the frontman has no actual singing duties, at least none that are in the player’s direct control. Instead, it’s the frontman’s job to act as the cheerleader for the band. So while your friends are strumming or drumming along to the rhythm, you’ll be stuck making all sorts of random “Rock Star” gestures that have seemingly little connection to the actual music. You’ll wave your arms in the air (apparently, like you just don’t care), clap your hands, and generally make yourself look like a fool. The controls for this section feel loose and disjointed, and of the four positions I found frontman to be the least fun to play.
Second to control, music selection is probably the most important thing that can make or break a rhythm game. Ultimate Band features a fairly large (40) list of songs, all covers, from various time periods. You’ll find everything from classics like I Want You to Want Me and My Generation, to more recent hits like Somebody Told Me and Steady As She Goes. The covers range in quality from poor to pretty good. One of the cool things that UB does however is switch up the vocal track depending on whether or not you’ve selected a male or female frontman (frontperson??). This is a great idea, and makes some of the songs really interesting and fresh.
Overall, Ultimate Band is a good choice for families with young children who are interested in games like Rock Band, but not yet ready to tackle the complexity. As it stands, UB will provide a solid distraction for less discerning younger gamers and their Wii Sports loving parents, but it’s inconsistency in the realm of control will turn off a large portion of its potential audience.